museum of nothing

The Museum of Nothing began as an idea in the mind of the artist Robert Smithson in 1967.  In dialogue with Allan Kaprow that year, Smithson said :

“I’m interested for the most part in what’s not happening, that area between events which could be called the gap. This gap exists in the bland and void regions or settings that are never looked at. A museum devoted to different kinds of emptiness could be developed. The emptiness could be defined by the actual installation of art.”

Founded almost half a century later, the Museum of Nothing is dedicated to exhibiting the ‘presence of absence’. In setting this goal, the Museum of Nothing recognises that things exist in an interplay of presence and absence, but that institutional collections tend to privilege the former over the latter. Its mission is to redress this imbalance, on the grounds that although ownership may gather knowledge and power, it is desire that generates them.

The Museum of Nothing is a para-institution, in the sense that it exists provisionally and parasitically inside and alongside other institutions. Operating as both a mental and a physical space, it presents its collection of absences within the familiar context of institutional collections, display furniture, classification criteria, departmental structures, exhibition signage and curatorial texts. The Museum of Nothing excavates, and occasionally undermines, other museum and institutional structures, employing absences to call their authority into question. By focusing on the gaps between artwork, frame, description and representation, its endeavour is to activate the myriad relationships between things and nudge the physical and linguistic mechanisms used to fix them in place.

In its current iteration, the Museum of Nothing occupies two spaces within Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art in Copenhagen. The first space acts as a type of reception room, giving an overview of the museum’s departments, whose taxonomy is structured around absent artefacts from several of Copenhagen’s museums. The second space contains the showcases that relate to these absent artefacts. It finds its common reference framework in another Copenhagen museum’s institutional furniture, which the Museum of Nothing borrows and bastardises.